Tactically naive Borussia Dortmund?

Dortmund beat Man City 3-1 in a recent friendly - a great trial for the swashbuckling 4-2-3-1.

Jurgen Klopp’s side officially began their season on Thursday evening in the Europa League. They met Azeri side Qarabağ, triumphing comfortably in the home leg. A 5th-placed finish in the Bundesliga earned Dortmund the right to compete in continental competition, and they begin the latest edition of German top-flight football on Sunday against Leverkusen.

The Signal Iduna Park outfit have a testing set of fixtures to commence the season with -after Leverkusen, it’s Stuttgart, before Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively. Dortmund were neither consistently great or woeful last season. Yet in light of their testing entry to the new campaign, it’s worth noting that a poor start in 2009/10 ultimately cost them a Champions League berth.

Such a shoddy start wasn’t the sole deciding factor, however, as coach Jurgen Klopp’s tactics must take a hefty chunk of the blame. The negative, cynical tactics his side were exponents of were overly-relied on, and amendments aimed at constructing a formation capable of taking the game to the opposition proved disastrous.

Enacting one of the Bundesliga’s quieter off-season transfer campaigns, three noteworthy additions and departures apiece means it’s likely to be same old for Dortmund during 2010/11. Beneficially, the players have another season in a system they’re comfortable in, and perhaps Dortmund will remain a side content without the ball, and reliant on upfield punts with it. However, Klopp has shown himself to be aware of the team’s shortcomings, and the success the 4-2-3-1 had against negative Manchester City’s 4-4-1-1 recently proves that hard attacking work has gone in on the training ground.

Youth permeates one of Europe’s most popular teams, but lest we forget, it’s several old faces who primarily construct the club’s current identity.

Klopp got stuck in his ways and couldn't look beyond the 4-4-1-1 after a string of victories last season. However, these were against sides playing in the same formation, albeit with weaker links between the main and support-striker. However, Dortmund's tactics came unstuck in the game against a resurgent Stuttgart in their coherent 4-4-2. Hindered by having to play Mats Hummels in midfield, and with no trequartista for him to mark, Dortmund's number-matched midfield looked uncertain, and Stuttgart romped to a 4-1 win.

Nevertheless, one of these *veterans*, former German international Patrick Owomoyela, now has a challenge on his hands to retain the right back spot after the acquisition of Łukasz Piszczek from Hertha BSC.

Piszczek also plays on the right-side of midfield, and the Pole’s direct running style might see Klopp deploy him if Owomoyela continues his nasty habit of losing the ball via daft, slow long-diagonals. Owomoyela is a disciplined defender, however, and with Dortmund’s only true winger playing ahead of him high up on the right strip of chalk, Klopp may stand by Owomoyela in a bid to keep the back door bolted.

The right-sided midfielder in question is Jakub Błaszczykowski, more commonly known as Kuba. The Polish international is right foot-reliant and fiery, but his direct head-down runs are often penetrating. Kuba’s competition comes from Damien Le Tallec, although the Frenchman is more adequately described as a deep-lying, off-centre striker.

Another veteran for Die Borussen is Sebastian Kehl. Nearing a decade in Dortmund, the 30-year-old club captain’s place in centre midfield is now at risk from Sven Bender. The youthful season-old signing from 1860 Munich oozes class and various attributes; at home playing incisive defence-splitters, or mucking in and halting oppositional counter-attacks. In tonight’s Europa League showdown, Kehl got the nod in the engine room of the 4-2-3-1, but Bender’s talent won’t remain benched for too long.

With the club far longer than either of those two is Florian Kringe. However, the 27-year-old is no longer a viable first-team option, and spent last season looking defensively hapless in woeful Hertha Berlin’s rearguard.

Guaranteed his place in the midfield is, of course, Nuri Şahin. The Turkish international is a fantastic player, and his left foot is dangerous from open play or set-pieces. Still just 21-years-old, the boy born in nearby Lüdenscheid offers Klopp a ghosting presence in the final third of the pitch, as well as vision and imagination from the quarterback position.

Custodian Roman Weidenfeller has a monstrous presence, and despite offering a calming reassurance, faces a new and younger rival in recent 21-year-old Australian recruit Mitchell Langerak. Last-season’s understudy Marc Ziegler was four years Weidenfeller’s senior at 34, and has been allowed to link-up with Stuttgart – another decision that shows Klopp is building the club for future seasons.

Maintaining the strong Polish presence in North Rhine-Westphalia is the summer’s marquee buy, Robert Lewandowski. A tall 21-year-old with two good feet, Lewandowski fuses skill, hunger and hustle. The former Lech Poznań forward will keep Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios on his toes, and is far a more technically complete player than last season’s 19-goal sharp-shooter.

Other Eastern Europeans in the forward-line include profligate Bulgarian, Dimitar Rangelov: a calm left-foot finish that helped destroy beleaguered Bayer was as good as it got for him last season. Rangelov will find opportunities even harder to come by this season with Marco Stiepermann continuing his promising emergence. Expect the Bulgarian to be moved on at some point in the near future.

As Carlos Tevez lookalike/playalike Nelson Valdez has already switched to La Liga, Hungary’s Tamás Hajnal might find first-team opportunities more forthcoming. Still, competition is fierce for the position immediately behind Barrios, and Hajnal doesn’t possess enough guile to make a difference in the big games.

After the aforementioned 4-1 hammering by Stuttgart, Klopp finally set his team out to seize the initiative - as opposed to waiting for it. Alas, his naivety was exposed. Switching the 4-4-1-1 to a radical 4-2-3-1 (one that often became 4-1-1-4 given Großkreutz's attacking instincts, and rare deployment in a more right-foot friendly position), Klopp failed to realise one tailors tactics with the opposition in mind. Thus, while a 4-2-3-1 might have worked against Stuttgart, the visiting Eintracht Frankfurt used their man-advantage in midfield and won 3-2.

New Japanese recruit Shinji Kagawa doesn’t necessarily offer an all-out playmaking presence in the hole-role, but as recent cameos against Manchester City, Wacker Burgahausen in the DFB-Pokal and now Qarabağ have shown, his off-ball darts are tricky to keep tabs on. For now, the energetic Kagawa will start until talisman Mohamed Zidan returns from injury, so has the chance to make a name for himself. If his promising off-ball movement in pre-season friendlies is anything to go in, he’ll bag himself his fair share of goals. Yet lest we forget, at one stage last season the Egyptian was one of Europe’s – let alone the Bundesliga’s – most in-form players.

No area of the opposition’s half is off-limits for 28-year-old Zidan. The ambidextrous attacker is now in his third season with the fourth club he’s represented in Germany. Zidan dithers from Valdez as he compounds off-ball gusto with guile, agility and incision. His injury and disciplinary record might put suitors off, but in the air and on the ground, the African champion is pivotal to Klopp’s tactics. During pre-season, Mario Götze played on the left-flank, maintaining the coach’s demands to cut in with the ball when on it and tuck infield to match up off it. This complemented Kagawa’s drifting to the left-flank – something Zidan is also prone to doing.

Width on that flank is mainly provided by left-back Marcel Schmelzer. Up and down hardly seems the adequate term to apply to Schmelzer – the explosive 22-year-old is forever on the overlap. He formed a successful partnership with Kevin Großkreutz last season, the strapping right-footed debutant’s tendency to drop into the centre of midfield giving Schmelzer total freedom on the channel. However, due to Schmelzer being caught out of position fairly frequently, and Großkreutz enrolled at the Paul Scholes school of tackling, opponents often find that flank easy to exploit.

Competition to Schmelzer is still provided by Dedê, the Brazilian who’s now in his 13th season with the club, but only able to start 11 games in 2009/10. Another Brazilian, Tinga, was released, but Dedê’s compatriot and fellow defender, Felipe Santana, remains with the club. The towering 24-year-old is a trustworthy deputy at centre back. The path to permanent first-team duties is of course blocked by the Neven Subotić/Mats Hummels partnership. The 21-year-old duo are perennially transfer-touted, but it appears both will remain with the club for this season.

Physical, confident and assertive in a manner not befitting two so young, the pair also offer a brilliant threat at set-pieces – particularly Serbia’s Subotić, the taller of the two. Hummels is endowed with more grace, and Dortmund generally begin attacks – if Şahin and Bender are chaperoned on their collection-drops – via his long-diagonals or ball-bringing gallops. Primarily, it’s the occasionally clumsy Subotić the vultures have their eyes on. The Bosnia-born, Baden-Württemberg/Florida-raised RCB played every 2009/10 Bundesliga match, collecting just two yellow cards in the process.

With a place in the Europa League group stage now all but certain, Dortmund can look forward to making their long overdue return to a continental competition. Looking back, last season’s grasp on a podium finish was disappointingly squandered. Klopp’s team haven’t had such a golden opportunity for attaining bronze medal in recent years. But with Bremen and Stuttgart weakened by crucial summer departures, Dortmund will spend 2010/11 contending with revitalised Wolfsburg, Hamburg and Leverkusen sides for that third and final Champions League berth.

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